Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Demonstrating Learning is Scary!

Every Monday night, while many may have regular dates with the TV for Monday Night Football or The Bachelorette, I'm connected to my computer for a weekly motivational, thought-provoking, and inspiring chat on twitter called #ALedchat. Holly Sutherland and I stepped out on a limb two years ago and started #ALedchat. We've been assistant principals together at Hoover High School for the past three years until about two weeks ago when she was named principal at her alma mater, Haleyville High School. A few months ago, we asked Michael McLendon to join us on our journey, and he's jumped right in the deep end with us!

Along with #ALedchat, we also host the quarterly #USedchat. We rotate responsibilities on who will take the lead for choosing the topics and guests, and this quarter's #USedchat was my turn to take the lead. With it being a summer chat, I decided on the topic of CHANGE since summer is a season of change for many educators. Some take on new roles, some change schools, and some step into leadership roles. Summer is also a time for learning and planning; for everyone, the beginning of each school year marks a time of renewal, a new start, a "do-over."

Monday night I had the honor of getting to chat with three leaders who are going/have gone through personal change, leading others through change, or both. One of our guests was Andrew Maxey, a middle school principal in Alabama who is successfully leading his school through a multi-year process of going to standards-based learning and grading. Another guest was Todd Nesloney, who has left the classroom to start his new role of principal this fall. Not only is he going through personal change, he is tasked with leading his staff through a process of change as well. Our third guest was Dan Rockwell, better known as LeadershipFreak. I still remember when Dan first started on twitter a few years ago... he connected with me and had some questions about twitter and how I was using it. We've been twitter friends since then, and I was thrilled that he was going to be a part of the chat!

Back in April, at the end of our spring USedchat, we announced that we were going to do a Google Hangout for the summer edition of USedchat. Holly and I had bounced the idea around for the spring chat, but we didn't have the knowledge to pull it together for the spring show. By announcing it, it made us accountable so that we had to learn how to set up and use a GHO in the summer. When I invited our guests to join us for the summer USedchat, I told them that it would be a GHO. It was time to start learning!

Now this is where the journey gets scary for me, because I was going to have to learn how to set up my first Google Hangout on Air and successfully broadcast it to the world. I had never done that before and I was nervous about it, but I knew that I had friends that I could call on for help. When I was a kid in school, all the way up through my early years in college, I was very shy and wouldn't ask others for help. It wasn't because I didn't want help... I was just too shy to ask for it. Thank goodness I picked up things quickly, because I didn't know how to advocate for myself. (For some reason, my colleagues tell me that they can't believe that I was that kind of kid!) Now, I readily ask for help, and learning about GHO was no exception. 

I read a ton of "how to" articles and blog posts. I set up a "circle" of just us 6 on Google+. I talked several times with our former librarian, Nikki Robertson. Then I asked the group for a practice run over the weekend before Monday night's chat. I then set up (what I hoped was correct) a practice hangout and the GHO on Air for Monday night's chat. I saw that there was a link to the YouTube video for our broadcast, so I started sharing it via Twitter. I did all of this with my fingers crossed as the waves of nervousness began rolling in. 

Sunday night, it was almost time to call everyone for the practice run. Transparency alert: I couldn't figure out how to call them. I either had a blonde moment or my nerves got to me. So I texted Nikki, who helped me connect with the group. I didn't actually connect with them via the GHO on Air that I had created, we had just done a regular hangout. Nikki explained how to connect within the GHO on Air, and she promised that she would be available for me to call her the next night before the chat started. Whew!

As Monday night approached, I got more and more excited, but I also got more nervous. I had all kinds of questions about how the Google Hangout would go... Would it connect correctly? Would we run out of time? Would we cover everything too quickly? Would everyone hate the new format? 

As 7:45pm approached, I began to warn my family (again) that I would need them to be quiet while I was on the chat. (Didn't they want to all go see a movie?) My youngest daughter giggled at me, because she could visibly see and hear my nervousness. Then it was time. I called Nikki and put her on speakerphone. She was very calm and helpful, telling me where to click and how to invite the guests. I sent the invitation, and the guests started to pop up on my screen. Then I got a text from Holly. She didn't see the invitation. As Nikki was talking me through how to re-invite just her, she joined us. I said goodbye to Nikki, and there we were all were, waiting for the 8pm start time. At 7:58, I clicked the Start button, and off we went! 

If you missed the video, you can watch it below or click the link to watch it on YouTube:

The GHO on Air happened successfully, but through all of this I was affirmed in what I believe about teaching and learning. I strongly believe that a teacher should never forget what it feels like when learning something new. As we teach each year, we become more of an "expert" in our content. We begin to anticipate questions, we learn from student questions, and we grow more confident. It can be easy to get farther away from where students are in the learning process. We can forget what it's like to grapple with new information and what it feels like to try something and fail. For a youngster or teenager, who is going through a lot developmentally, they may not respond like an adult does or would. We owe it to our students to BE a student. 

I also believe in having an authentic audience for student work. We need to leave the days where students' work was only viewed and assessed by the teacher. With technology, there are many more ways to create opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning to authentic audiences. But don't forget, when we ask students to go to the board to solve a problem in front of their peers, or create a public service announcement to show to the school, or write a blog post, or other ways, demonstrating learning is scary! Students will need emotional support through the process. They will need coaching. They will need knowledge. But when they have an authentic audience, they won't need to ask, "Why do I have to do this?"


  1. Wonderful article and to me you looked like a pro on the #USedchat. I loved what you said about,"a teacher should never forget what it feels like when learning something new." I am going through that with trying to introduce PBL and flexible learning spaces into my classroom this year. Great job moderating.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I think we've got to use empathy and try to put ourselves in others' shoes, especially our students. From the simple going to the board in from of the class or reading out loud, it really can be scary for some. To further the learning of the student, we must not allow those students to be met with adversity or callousness in regards to their fears. Best wishes to you as you introduce PBL!

  2. Jennifer this is wonderful. I think the more we can all be honest about our own personal insecurities the more it will give others the courage to do the same. I can't wait to watch the video. Thank you for making it just a little bit easier now for the rest of us.

    1. Thanks, Jon. I think sometimes people make things look easy, and we forget that they may be paddling like crazy underneath the surface. Knowing that someone else struggles and gets through it can help us believe that we can, too. I appreciate your comments!